There are only museums to see in Madrid…. Or you only need one day to see the Spanish capital…. Madrid is a place only for soccer fans…. These are just a few of the opinions that can be found on the Internet, which we completely disagree with! Read why! Get to know Madrid and its attractions :)
Another weekend, another “city break”, this time Spain:) We can’t sit still and even minimal year-end vacations don’t make us give up traveling. So we whisked away another 3 days and decided to take off by plane one last time in a smaller group before we started traveling as a foursome!
The second trimester of pregnancy is the best time to travel, but even here you need to be very careful ( we have already written about traveling during pregnancy itself here). So we were looking for a place where we would arrive in 4-6 hours max, comfortably, without commuting. Yes, at some point in your life, it’s that comfort, convenient commute and transfers, seat on the plane, luggage, etc. that make a colossal difference to you. We didn’t feel like squeezing with all the clothespins, with a running two-year-old and a still growing belly…. ;) It was supposed to be a quiet family trip, such our little“babymoon“.
This year was full of so many trips, both near and far, that we went on the assumption: nothing by force. All at ease, what you can see on the spot, you will get. If we feel like spending half a day in the park, that’s what we’ll do – no fuss, no pressure. After all, it’s supposed to be for everyone to relax and spend time together, not chase sights and views.
We picked a few places on the map and looked at airline connections…. We searched and searched until it finally dawned on us that we could fly from Lodz after all! Not directly admittedly, but with convenient transfers. Not a moment had passed already fired up KAYAK.co.uk and searched for the most comfortable transfers through Munich. And so we limited our choice to 3 destinations, and out of them we just chose the flight to Madrid.
We chose Madrid, contrary to some of the opinions we had previously heard, which we quoted at the very beginning of the post. We are definitely not soccer fans, museums interest us, but we certainly do not consider ourselves art experts ;) Ot, we like to look at well-known and admired works of art, and if at the same time they are interestingly arranged and described then all the greater benefit for us. And above all, we had a hard time believing that there was nothing to do in Madrid! So we decided to find out for ourselves.
We will describe to you today what impression Madrid made on us, what we managed to see, what we recommend, and at the end of the post, traditionally, you will find a map with all the places marked.
Table of contents
First impressions from Madrid
What impression did the Spanish capital make on us?
A city terribly crowded, noisy, full of life until the wee hours. We just happened to hit the holiday of shopaholics, or Black Friday, and several other events coincided: the start of Christmas illuminations in the center and free entries to museums. A veritable armageddon in a word! :)
The streets in the city center were literally packed with people, and it took quite a bit of skill to walk with a stroller. On the one hand, we could feel the beginnings of a festive atmosphere and shopping fever, and on the other hand, after a few days we were already severely tired of the ubiquitous crowds, the lack of seats in cafes and restaurants, and the queues for everything we could, and late into the night! Even at 11 p.m. there was a wild crowd overflowing the main streets of the city, restaurants were filled to the brim, people were entering active (!) stores, and no one was surprised to see non-sleeping children at that hour either :)
And you had to stand both for food, for coffee, for tickets, in line at the store…. everywhere, everywhere…. Free museums also mean queues even for several hours of standing, but we will write about visiting Madrid on a budget another time (is it worth it?!).
We spent 3 full days in Madrid (Friday – Sunday) and it was enough to see the most interesting, recommended places, discover a few, less known ones and make a half-day surprise for the baby :)
Unfortunately, the queues and cramped conditions made us let a few places (especially restaurants) go, but we were able to taste a variety of take-out food (not necessarily tapas). We promised ourselves to come back here maybe in the spring, when it’s a little quieter.
What’s worth seeing in Madrid?
But let’s get to the point: what is worth seeing in Madrid? Here are some places we think are worth visiting. And, unfortunately, it is impossible to describe the most important places in Madrid leaving out the museums (especially at the Paseo del Prado), but we assure you that people who avoid museums by a wide margin will also find something for themselves :)
Royal Palace of Madrid
The impressive Royal Palace(Palacio Real) can be seen from the outside, but this is only the tip of the iceberg, as the most interesting awaits inside, once you purchase a ticket.
The palace dates back to the 18th century, but as early as the 9th century there was a fortress built here by the Moors, who found the site to be an ideal vantage point for defending nearby Toledo, which played a more important role at the time. The royal family lived here until 1931, and now only important ceremonies and events are held at the Palacio Real.
As a result, visitors can admire inside the richly decorated halls and chambers, furnishings, accessories, beautiful frescoes, ornaments, sculptures and paintings. The various rooms are described, we can learn what they were used for and where state ceremonies were and still are held. In the first rooms you can take pictures, but from a certain point on there is a ban, strongly enforced.
We recommend going inside to see the Throne Room, the Gasparini Room, the Blue Bedroom where King Charles III died, the Smoking Room for men and the adjacent Yellow Room for ladies, the Banquet Hall with a sumptuous table for 144 people, and numerous rooms with exhibits of silver, porcelain or Stradivarius instruments.
Although we have seen many palaces during our trips, this one was particularly memorable. Beautifully detailed interiors, impressive rooms, and a marble staircase, bathed in shades of gold and red inviting you to explore. Recommended!
Adjacent to the palace is the Plaza de Oriente, a semicircular square with a statue of Philip IV on horseback and a fountain, where the country’s biggest celebrations were held.
Practical information: tickets to the palace can be purchased in advance online, but this does not mean that you will be able to enter without a queue. There are two separate queues at the entrance: one for those with a ticket and one for the ticket office, but both go slowly due to security checks.
Ticket prices: 11 euros, discounted 6 euros. It is possible to visit for free during the last two hours the palace is open, Monday through Thursday.
Almudena Cathedral with its crypts
The cathedral is almost a fresh addition to the Madrid landscape. Its construction was not completed until the 1990s, which means no less than that until then Madrid had no cathedral at all! Construction of the cathedral took more than 100 years, and many times the vision of what it should look like, in what style it should be built, and the unstable situation in the country, funds and the war caused work to be interrupted. The neoclassical cathedral was finally completed in 1993, and was consecrated by Pope John Paul II. The interior of the cathedral is surprisingly colorful and intense.
We also recommend looking into the crypt, which has a separate entrance. The interior of the crypt is built in the Neo-Romanesque style, with more than a hundred columns, each with a different capitol decorated with plants or animals. It is a burial place for distinguished people, and the tombs are located on the sides, on the walls, but also in the floor – you have to walk carefully, as fresh flowers and bouquets are placed on many. However, this is not a typical crypt – it is a small church, and during our visit a modest baptism was held here.
Tours of the cathedral and crypts are free, but it is recommended to leave a voluntary donation.
Also worth recommending is the nearby vantage point of the aforementioned cathedral:
An interesting departure from the churches and museums of Madrid is the ancient temple of Debod located on a hill in the Parque de la Montaña north of the Royal Palace. This Egyptian temple was moved here in 1968 from the Nile River as a token of gratitude for helping to save Egyptian monuments. It was made available in 1972.
There is also a vantage point on the mountain overlooking Madrid, from which one can view the palace and the cathedral, among other things.
Entrance to the hill, the viewpoint and viewing the Debod temple from the outside are free. Currently, the temple is not open to the public for tours inside.
The Teleférico de Madrid, or cable car, runs 2.5 kilometers between the West Park(Parque del Oeste) and the Casa De Campo park. The train ride is a glimpse of the green part of Madrid, above the Manzanares River, but also a view of the Royal Palace and Almudena Cathedral.
The entire route is covered in more than 10 minutes, and the ticket costs 4.5 euros one way and 6 euros round trip. Unfortunately, especially in the off-season, the train does not run every day (it operates mainly on weekends and also only at certain times) and we kissed the handle. So it’s worth making sure what days and times it runs just before you arrive on the queue’s website: teleferico.emtmadrid.es
Plaza Mayor is a bustling square, the heart of the city, where every now and then a street artist pops up right in front of your nose. We just happened to be on the first day of the Christmas market, so the square was full of wooden booths, Christmas decorations and a huge Christmas tree.
All of this surrounding may overshadow the most important building, older than the square itself – the beautiful Casa de la Panaderia building, which later housed rooms for the royal family. Initially, a market was located here, and after it was transformed into a square (work was completed in 1619), major events and spectacles (including corridas and knightly tournaments) began to take place here, but also executions.
The square is surrounded by arcades, red brick buildings with turrets and is considered one of the most beautiful squares in all of Spain. In the buildings are located stores, cafes and bars, where tourists eagerly squat. A statue of Philip III on horseback also catches the eye in the square.
We spent a lot of time here simply observing the local “bread earners,” having fun and looking at the Christmas stalls.
We also encourage you to explore the area on foot, including the popular San Miguel Market located in a glass building and offering both fruits and vegetables, tapas and other snacks and drinks.
And if you were in the mood for delicious churros with chocolate then be sure to check out the famous Chocolatería San Ginés, where we just happened to be in a long line, but you can also order a take-home portion in the building next door.
Plaza de la Puerta del Sol
The name of the square means the Gate of the Sun and refers to the gate of the city walls once located here. Today the square is surrounded by stores and restaurants, and is guarded by a horse statue of Charles III. However, it is not this statue that is photographed the most here – the more popular symbol of Madrid is the bear climbing the madrono (strawberry tree). It should also be added that especially on weekends it is incredibly crowded, swarming with street performers and beggars. You have to be careful with your belongings, as there are ideal conditions for pickpockets.
In the square, just in front of the government building, there is the so-called “government building. kilometer zero(kilometer cero), from which distances to other cities in Spain are counted.
Basilica of San Francisco el Grande
Built in the 18th century, during the reign of Charles III, the Church of San Francisco, located south of the cathedral, was for a long time the unofficial cathedral of Madrid. Its impressive size and huge dome make it one of the largest religious buildings in Madrid.
Going inside can be difficult, as the basilica is closed for most of the day. We happened to be at a church celebration and had a chance to look inside to see the richly decorated interior of the temple and six smaller chapels with smaller domes.
It must be admitted that we were a bit unlucky in Madrid. Where we preferred it to be less crowded, it was incredibly crowded, and where this crowd makes the atmosphere it turned out that we arrived at the wrong time. Such an example is the Rastro market, stretching along Ribera de Curtidores Street. Although we were there around noon on Saturday, there was not a trace of the booths and stalls. We regret it, because before we left we were looking at pictures of how the place was bustling with life. All that was left for us was to climb uphill and peek into the single open stores selling handicrafts and leather goods.
As a consolation, we went to the nearby Mercado de la Cebada – a local market with fresh produce and local snacks. If you want to see a less touristy market from San Miguel, you might like it here.
Gran Via is a street that never sleeps. If you are more interested in shopping or nightlife than visiting museums or palaces, then you should head to Gran Via and the adjacent streets. We were surprised at how many people are able to scroll here, even in the late evening hours. Restaurants and bars open for a long time surprise no one, but stores full of people until 10 or 11 pm surprised us greatly.
During our stay, the street lit up with Christmas lights for the first time this season which was met with an ovation and celebration on the street. Car traffic was restricted and people literally took to the street. However, it’s worth bouncing to one of the adjacent streets, where it’s a bit quieter, and also interesting illuminations await.
Plaza de Cibeles
Plaza de Cibeles is worth mentioning mainly because of the majestic building located here, which was the headquarters of the post office – Palacio de Comunicaciones. Today it is the seat of the city government and the mayor. The building is often described as a symbol of Madrid.
In the middle of the square is a fountain of the goddess Kybele.
We have to start with this museum, because this is where some of the richest collections in the world are located! Believe us, even if painting or sculpture does not interest you and you claim to be completely unfamiliar with it, inside you will find several works you have seen more than once at least in textbooks, authors you are sure to know.
You can spend several hours at the Prado, circulating among the chambers and admiring the most famous works by Goya, Rubens, Velazquez, Rembrandt, Titian and many, many others. There is a lot of it. Much too much and you can quickly get tired and discouraged. And it is important to know that what is found here is only some small percentage of all the works collected at the Prado. So we recommend planning your visit so that you go straight to the parts that interest you most.
You can’t take pictures at the museum – something we particularly liked here. Visitors focus on what they see in front of them, not through the lens; no one walks up, snaps a photo and moves on.
Practical information: Please note, the museum can be visited for free from Monday to Saturday from 6pm to 8pm, and on Sundays from 5pm to 7pm, but expect long lines before entering (it’s worth keeping up to date on the website, as the Prado Museum was free all weekend during our visit).
Luggage is screened before entering the museum, and backpacks and jackets must be left in the free locker room.
Ticket prices: 15 euros per adult (discounted 7.5 euros).
National Museum Queen Sophia Art Center
We went to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía mainly because of the works of Picasso and Dali, but inside you can also admire works by artists such as Joan Miro and Francis Bacon. Unlike the Prado, here we have more contemporary art, and the most important work is Picasso’s Guernica.
The halls are located in a building with a courtyard in the middle, so sightseeing is made easy – just walk around the courtyard and look into interesting rooms on each floor.
Practical information: Like the Prado, this museum can also be visited for free, Monday through Saturday from 7 to 9 p.m., and Sunday from 1:30 to 7 p.m.
Photos can be taken inside, but not in all rooms.
Ticket prices: 10 euros per adult (discounted 5 euros).
Another impressive museum is the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, where works by such masters as Caravaggio, Titian, Durer, El Greco, Rubens, Goya, van Gogh and Picasso can be seen. The collection includes 800 years of art history and, in addition to paintings, sculptures and textiles.
It is recommended to reserve at least 3 hours for this museum.
Practical information: We can also visit this museum for free, but only on Mondays, from 12-4pm.
Ticket prices: 12 euros per adult (discounted 8 euros).
A beautiful park located next to the museums listed above. It is a place where you can jog, bike, go to the playground with your children, but also enjoy the beautifully landscaped gardens. About 15,000 trees grow throughout the park.
There are two larger bodies of water in the park – one, the Estanque Pond, is by the Alfonso XII monument, and the other is by the Crystal Palace (Palacio de Cristal). People gather around the first one and walk along the Salon de Estanque promenade where food and souvenir stands are set up. What is quite interesting and rare, on the pond itself you can take a boat ride.
The Crystal Palace, on the other hand, used to be a greenhouse, today it hosts exhibitions and, together with the pond on which black swans swim, is one of the most beautiful places in Madrid(!!).
Admission to the park and the Crystal Palace is free, but you pay for additional attractions.
Madrid Atocha train station
While in the area, you can take a look at the largest train station in Spain, the Estación de Atocha, considered an architectural masterpiece. However, we were more attracted by the botanical garden located at the station and the turtles in the pond, which…. weren’t there! ;-) Did we mention yet that we were unlucky in Madrid? ;) Well, so the botanical garden was, but fenced off and inaccessible , and we did not see turtles anywhere. We had to settle for views from platforms between escalators.
Also, it’s fair to say that the garden is nowhere near the ones we’ve seen in public spaces in Singapore, although by European standards it’s not often you see this much greenery in a train station.
Perhaps you will be luckier than we were.
Zoo and pandas
The reason we went to the Madrid Zoo is one. Well, maybe three: three white and black animals, so beloved by Olive ;-) And we won’t get into a discussion about whether the zoo is a good place for animals or not, but being in Madrid we couldn’t pass by the pandas. We bought tickets at a discounted price to celebrate Black Friday and spent a few hours at the zoo.
So, if you desire to see
then you can go to the Madrid Zoo, but if this is not your dream peak, you can let it go, because the zoo itself does not impress, and the conditions for the animals leave much to be desired.
Something that really surprised us at this zoo, however, was…. storks! It was surprising that when in Poland the storks had long since flown away, there they were still spinning their nests at their best. There are plenty of nests and stork families in the garden area, so look up!
Map of attractions in Madrid
Below you will find a map of all the attractions in Madrid described above:
Our video from Madrid
We also recommend you our short YouTube video on What to do in Madrid over the weekend?:
As you can see, Madrid has much more to offer than just museums. We especially liked Retiro Park, which must look beautiful at any time of the year, and the bustling Plaza Mayor. Of course, museums are an important point on Madrid’s map of attractions, but not the only one.
Although we had initially envisioned a slow and leisurely city break, the number of exciting and interesting sites made the day’s schedule fill to the brim, and we returned to the hotel late in the evening.
We flew to Madrid in cooperation with KAYAK.pl, where you can search not only for flights, but also for hotels.
We also recommend our gallery of photos from Madrid:
You can also find our coverage from Madrid on our Instagram, at this link.